Fireworks. If there’s something that should invoke excitement in anyone of any age, it should be fireworks. I’m not talking firecrackers you light up in a park on July 4th/Victoria Day/Chinese New Year or whatever excuse you get to use to buy these explosives out of a truck parked on a side street that’s illegal on any other given day;
I’m talking spectacular explosions far far away in the sky that costs sponsors hundreds of thousands of dollars for you to enjoy while getting squashed and trampled by other hundreds of thousands of people – like this:
That was what I thought I was going to see on the last weekend of Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival celebrated throughout most of India, where they get to create small to ginormous clay figures of the Ganesha, a Hindu deity that has the head of an elephant, worship them, and then push them into a body of water.
Okay, backtrack. The first time I went to Bangalore for work, it was 2014 and it was around September, and there were elephants everywhere. Not real elephants of course (I wish!) but clay elephants.
At night, I could hear from my hotel room the bangs of firecrackers, and as the week wore on, they got more frequent and more intense.
After coming back from Sri Lanka, the celebration seemed to only get more intense, and on one of the nights, the bangs were nonstop so I had a feeling that this was going to be the grand finale. I had no choice but to go see whatever is happening out there.
I called my boss who was also in the hotel and asked him if he wanted to join me. Him being Indian in origin, though not Hindu, not only said no because he hates crowds, but also did not want me to go either.
“Sounds too dangerous to me” he says, which was met by my hostile silence that he could clearly sense over the phone, and also knowing that he’s not the boss of my spare time and probably can’t stop me, he interrupted my silent brewing with, “ugh – call a cab and ask the cab driver to stay with you if you insist on going.” (my safety was clearly not as important as his need to avoid crowds.)
I happily said okay, grabbed my bag, and headed to the lobby. At the reception, I told the concierge that I needed a cab to head over to the celebration happening by Ulsoor Lake. Fortunately, the concierge was not the same guy to whom I had asked if I can walk to the commercial street market 10 minutes away safely the first day I arrived, because this guy, too, looked at me strangely and said, “no, no cab is going to take you…the lake is one block from here.”
“Oh….umm…can I hire an auto then?” I am not crazy about taking an autorickshaw, or commonly known as a tuktuk outside of India, because they tend you rip you off but I seemed to have no choice.
“No, they wont take you either, it’s really just one block…”
This was when I began to pout, “but my boss told me I am not allowed to go unless I go by cab…..” I couldn’t tell if those were real tears welling up in my eyes because I really really wanted to go but the concierge took pity on me and waved two of the guys working at the hotel over and told them one of them had to walk me there.
Although the situation seemed a bit bizarre, they insisted that it was okay and off we went.
On the way there, we passed by lorries and lorries of Ganeshas making their way to the lake and he explained to me the ritual of immersing the Ganesha in water and told me he wasn’t sure if there will be fireworks, as what I was hearing was just firecrackers.
I started asking him questions in more depth about why they need to dissolve the Ganeshas and he told me he didn’t know the answer because he wasn’t Hindu but Catholic (!!!)
“So how do you know so much about the holiday and how did you ride in the back of the lorries with your friends in the past for this festival if you are not Hindu?” I asked him
“Because here, we celebrate each other’s religions” and he went on to tell me about how religions in India generally don’t divide people. In fact most of what divides people are politicians whose religions as an excuse for votes, or simply regional divisions: people observe different practices based on what region of India they come from, moreso than religious practices.
I knew he wasn’t BS’ing me either because amidst the Ganesha festival decorations happening all over the city, you can find the lighted symbols of the popular religions shining unitedly at you.
As we got closer to the lake, I realized that i really wasn’t going to see any fireworks, but I was about to witness something even cooler – the clay idols being pushed into the lake!
Crowds of people were standing around the lake and being 5″3′ in flat shoes, I knew there was no way i would be able to see anything, but my new Catholic friend had a plan. I’m not sure what he told security, but not only did I get to bypass the crowd, and stand front stage, I even got to take pictures on the platform with the Ganeshas before they are hitched up to a craned and moved into the water. He did claim that it helps that I don’t look like a local. Food for thought?
To be honest, I was very concerned about the environmental effect of this practice, and I wasn’t getting getting any straight answers from my colleague when I asked them about it.
Nevertheless, a few days later, I took a picture of Ulsoor Lake from the hotel and it seemed pretty clean…don’t ask, don’t tell?